My class had a lesson on “conservation” at school today. Miss said it’s where people reuse old things or use new things more thoughtfully. Or do stuff differently to stop using up the Earth’s resources. She said conservation is important because our planet is sick, and we need to help make it healthy again.
And then Miss asked if we had examples of how our families did conservation. Bridgette Preston’s hand shot up first, of course!
“My mum saves leftover food scraps for compost in the garden,” she said with her smarty-pants smile.
I thought it sounded silly. But Miss said using food scraps to fertilise the garden was a fine example of conservation. Bridgette Preston looked at me and poked her tongue out.
“My father sticks newspapers in the recycling bin on rubbish day,” Ali Fawzi called out.
“Yeah, my dad does that, and he puts tin cans and glass bottles in the recycling bin, too,” chimed in Lennie Smith.
“My gran uses old jars to make jam,” said Ellie Braithwaite.
“We use recycled toilet paper,” called out Toby Thomas.
Everyone started laughing, and Toby began to cry. But he cheered up when Miss said using recycled paper was an excellent example of conservation.
I still thought it sounded yuck! But one by one, the whole class gave examples of conservation.
Sasha Marks’ mum carries home shopping in reusable bags, and Charlie Abbott’s dad rides a bike to work. Peter Chow’s mum buys clothes from secondhand markets. And Varni Singh said her family use green dishwashing liquid.
Everyone had examples of conservation, except me!
Mum uses plastic shopping bags and throws everything in the bin — food scraps, paper, cans, bottles and jam jars. And Dad drives his smoky truck to work. I don’t know where we buy our clothes. But our toilet paper is wrapped in black and gold packaging, and our dishwashing liquid is pink!
Bridgette Preston was looking at me again, smiling. We both knew the school bell was about to sound for lunch. How could I face her or anyone in the playground if I couldn’t think of an example of how my family does conservation?
I saw Miss glance at the classroom clock, and I suddenly thought of something.
“Excuse me, Miss,” I called out. “My dad shouts at me if I leave the light on in the bathroom.”
Everyone laughed, and my face grew hot.
“Well done, Alan,” Miss said with a smile. “Turning off lights when we don’t need them is one of the best examples of conservation.”
The class stopped laughing, and we all started packing up for lunch. I turned and looked at Bridgette Preston. She poked her tongue out at me. And I practised conservation by not poking mine out and smiling back at her instead.
© 1992 Robert Fairhead
N.B. You might like to listen to this story on the Tall And True Short Reads podcast.
I wrote this short story in 1992 for a BBC Radio 4 program, Costing the Earth – it cost me a postage stamp.
Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of Robert Fairhead. A writer and editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please contact Robert for further details.